The Composers of DOCTOR WHO - Tristram Cary

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Christopher Morley revisits the work of Doctor Who composer Tristram Cary.


Prick up your ears once more as we delve into the wonderful sound-world of Doctor Who & look at the man who should arguably be as well-remembered as Delia Derbyshire & Ron Grainer. His music can be heard in no less than eight classic serials ( The Daleks, snatches of which are also re-used for The Rescue, Marco Polo, The Daleks MasterPlan, The Ark, The Gunfighters, The Power Of The Daleks & The Mutants.)


Having heard those, it probably won't surprise you to learn that Tristram Cary is thought of as another pioneering force for electronic music. Born in Oxford to a pianist mother, his father being the novelist Joyce Cary ( his most famous work being 1939's Mister Johnson, adapted into a film in 1990), his service as a radar engineer during the Second World War is what arguably sparked his interest in the ' music of the future'. As his Daily Telegraph obituary put it-
'Specialising in radar – he had been a radio enthusiast in his teens – he received training in electronics and grasped the potential of new technology from Germany that enabled sound to be recorded on magnetic tape; on his demobilisation in late 1946 he returned to Oxford, changed his degree course to PPE and immediately began experimenting with tape recorders. He realised that, as well as being a way of reproducing sound, tape could be the source of an altogether new type of music.'
He was encouraged to develop his ideas further, which resulted in the likes of A Study In Limited Resources ( 1967), & Narcissus ( 1968). A large body of his work manages to combine the organic with the mechanical- Narcissus deploying a flute alongside two tape recorders, as one example.

If that in itself weren't showing off just a bit, we can dip into his film score work too! He was behind The Ladykillers( 1955) Time Without Pity ( 1957) , Quatermass & The Pit ( 1967), & Blood From The Mummy's Tomb( 1971) among many others.



Add in a catalogue of orchestral/choral, chamber/solo, vocal, radio & theatrical works outside of his film & television commitments & you'll see just why he was one of the busiest if not necessarily most recognised composers in the business in his day. Moving into the late Seventies/early Eighties, he also began to experiment with the then- developing ' computer music' movement, though his output in this area was comparatively little when stacked up against his other interests- Nonet ( 1979), Soft Walls ( 1980), Trellises ( 1984) & The Impossible Piano ( 1994) making a foursome.

Especially when put up against a grand total of an admittedly not much higher five compositions for orchestra, twelve chamber/solo pieces, five vocal works ( including 1973's Divertimento, for sixteen singers, jazz drummer, & Olivetti typewriters), six for analogue tape, eleven scores for film, eight for radio & seven television soundtracks not counting those for Doctor Who ( which includes the 1963 adaptation of Jane Eyre &the following year's Madame Bovary). He had a stab at several of the big guns of theatre too- music for productions of Macbeth ( 1960), Henry IV ( 1961) & Hamlet ( 1968) among his nine theatre/other works. One we can certainly file under ' other' is Music For Light.



It was also he who created the Royal College of Music's first studio for electronic performances in 1967, as well as later adding one to his house in Suffolk & taking it with him when he emigrated to Australia- where it assisted him in his teaching post at the University of Adelaide. His hand loomed large over the early years of the synthesiser, too! Founding Electronic Music Studios ( perhaps better known as EMS) in 1969 alongside fellow composers David Cockerell & Peter Zinovieff, the trio quickly came up with the VCS3, widely acknowledged as the first commercially available instrument of its kind. It was quickly taken to the hearts of a wide spectrum of late Sixties/early Seventies musicians- the likes of Hawkwind, who employed the services of science-fiction novelist Michael Moorcock- he'd later go on to write the Eleventh Doctor story The Coming Of The Terraphiles - as a lyricist on their Warrior On The Edge Of Time album as well as Sonic Attack from Space Ritual & The Chronicle Of The Black Sword album( based on his Elric novels, Kraftwerk & Tangerine Dream.

Things took a step up with the release of a sister model, the Synthi 100, in 1971. The 40 or so that were manufactured were quickly rechristened the 'Delaware' after Maida Vale's Delaware Road, which hardcore Doctor Who fans should know as the location of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop! It won't surprise you that they were regular EMS customers. Indeed a trial arrangement of the Third Doctor's theme was made on a Delaware.


Zinovieff had also collaborated with Delia Derbyshire & Brian Hodgson of the Workshop as Unit Delta Plus, though this only lasted a year from 1966-67 having performed at several experimental music festivals including the Million Volt Light & Sound Rave ( perhaps more famous for having been the site of the only known performance of the Beatles' dabble into electronic waters with Carnival Of Light. Its never appeared on record, though several versions are believed to exist- the one below being just one) & a final gig at the Royal College of Art.



Cary would soldier on until 2008, passing away in Adelaide at the age of 82. He'd lectured at the local university until 1986, & would receive the Medal of the Order of Australia five years later to add to his Albert H.Maggs Composition Award from 1977. One of the criteria for the award from the University of Melbourne ( named after an Aussie amateur pianist, professional bookkeeper & arts patron) is that the recipient must have been living in Australia for at least two years prior to nomination, which would mean he would have emigrated in at least 1975. Which means that his music for The Mutants ( broadcast in 1972) might well have been among his last work on British soil.......



He'd even find the time to write a book in 1992- the Dictionary Of Musical Technology- as well as becoming a concerts/opera critic for The Australian. How he crammed it all in we'll never know.....

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